Published on March 22, 2022

Conservation Champion Libby Herland

Libby Herland standing in her backyard garden

Libby Herland joined the Berkshire Sanctuaries Advisory Committee in January 2018 just a few months after retiring from a career dedicated to conservation. She is currently the Vice-Chair of the committee, the coordinator of the Trail Stewards Volunteer Program, and dedicated to keeping invasive plants in check, especially around Canoe Meadows which is close to her home.

How did you get involved with Mass Audubon?

When I was 16 I worked at Pleasant Valley as part of a summer youth program in what we called the Trailside Museum, taking care of the live animals like snakes and flying squirrels and interacting with visitors. That summer you could find me feeding the animals or walking around with a boa constrictor wrapped around me!

I know that summer jobs and experiences in nature are so important for young people because that summer at Pleasant Valley set me on my career path. My eyes opened to the world of conservation and I said, “This is what I want to do!”

Where did following your passion for conservation take you?

After majoring in environmental studies at Berkshire Community College, I continued my undergraduate and then graduate work in Florida, studying marine biology and urban planning. This prepared me for a job in the Florida Governor’s Office doing ocean and coastal policy work.

In 1995, I moved into my first position as a manager of a national wildlife refuge in New Jersey. I returned to Massachusetts when I became the manager of the Eastern Massachusetts National Wildlife Refuge Complex located in Sudbury, overseeing eight wildlife refuges in eastern Mass.

I am proud of my 22 years of managing national wildlife refuges; I know my life had value because of the contribution I was able to make to wildlife through this work. And now that I am retired I have brought things full circle by returning to the Berkshires and Pleasant Valley as a volunteer!

Why do you work on invasives removal?

In the late 1990s we began to realize that invasive plants were moving into the northeast U.S. By the early 2000s, those of us working in conservation realized just how much of a threat invasive plants and animals are to habitat, native plants, and birds.

We may never eradicate invasives but we need to hold the line and keep them in check.

I’ve been inspired by what Peter Alden, a conservationist from Concord, says about the negative impact of invasives. He notes how the berries from invasives like Oriental bittersweet and Japanese honeysuckle are full of sugar. Birds will eat them and fill up, but they are not getting the nutrition they need to make a successful migration. Birds passing through the northeast need the fat content of native berries.

Do you have a favorite spot at one of the Berkshire sanctuaries?

It may not be the most beautiful spot, but I have a special connection to Farviews at Pleasant Valley where the Trail of Ledges and the Laurel Trail intersect. This was the place that I loved to visit that summer I was 16. I’d sit on the rocky outcropping and look out over the valley to October Mountain. Today my favorite loop at Pleasant Valley is the Trail of Ledges with a stop at Farviews, then heading up to the summit of Lenox Mountain before coming back down the Overbrook Trail. It’s a good day when I can make that loop!